Author interview: Colin Bateman

Colin Bateman Interview

Published in The Sunday Business Post on April 13th, 2008

For some novelists, writing is a tortuous process, with each paragraph and page struggling to come to life. Not so for Colin Bateman. The ex-journalist has successfully applied his newspaper skills to the world of fiction writing and, as a result, enjoys an enviable chapter-a-day productivity rate.

‘‘As a journalist, you write two or three stories a day and nobody comes up to you and says: ‘Oh, you must be exhausted, you’re such a warrior.’ It’s just expected. You go in and do your job; the discipline of churning out thousands of words a day is a useful one. There’s a huge difference between the two fields, but I can touch type and I’m comfortable expressing myself in print,” he says.

Bateman joined the County Down Spectator as a cub reporter at the age of 17 and, as is the norm with regional papers, quickly found himself filling a wide range of journalistic roles. He particularly enjoyed writing a satirical column on life in the area.

‘‘There was lots of space to fill and I was pretty much allowed to write whatever I wanted, so I took the piss out of stuff a lot. Lots of bits of columns got recycled into later books, and the reactions I got locally for my writing gave me the confidence to sit down and do what I always wanted to do – write books. It was great training.” Today, Bateman has reinvented himself as a one-man media production unit – he writes bestselling novels, children’s books and movie adaptations (including the critically acclaimed 1998 comedy Divorcing Jack), and hopes to direct his first feature film in the next year.

He has returned to fiction with his latest novel Orpheus Rising, an unusual but deeply enjoyable road trip novel with a twist. Michael Ryan is an Irish journalist-turned-author who returns to the small Florida town of Brevard on the Space Coast, where his wife was murdered ten years ago during a botched armed robbery.

Accompanied by his Pulitzer prize-winning, but deeply irritating, journalist sidekick, Ambrose Jeffers, Ryan is drawn back to the area, needing closure and sensing that there’s unfinished business for him in Brevard. So far, so good – the reader is entertained comfortably within the boundaries of the crime thriller genre. Until around 200 pages into the book that is, when Ryan hits his head and things appear to take on a supernatural twist.

‘‘Or do they? That depends on the slant you want to put on it,” says Bateman. ‘‘I never plot my novels in advance, but I always knew this one would involve something like this. I actually wrote 20 pages of this book several years ago – it was called Ghost Town – before moving onto something else.”

‘‘But, generally, I don’t like supernatural things in books – I think Stephen King is a superb writer, but I don’t really like that kind of writing. So, the challenge for me was to write it in away that was believable tome, so that I liked it,” he said.

‘‘I grew up fascinated by writers and the way they write – the ones who struggled to produce the drafts they had to do by hand in pre-computer days, but also the pulp fiction writers who had this colossal output. I veer towards the pulp fiction writers. Write it quick, get it out, and once it’s out, it’s gone – I don’t think about it any more.”

In 1995, Bateman’s first novel, Divorcing Jack, was rejected by all the usual publishers and agents, before being pulled from the HarperCollins slush pile to become a huge hit. More books followed, along with successful screenplays and a film adaptation of Divorcing Jack.

Bateman’s books draw deeply from the conventions of the crime genre, but are also thickly peppered with humour and, as with his fellow crime writer Ian Rankin, references to popular culture and music. ‘‘One of my biggest influences in life has been punk rock, which was a massive part of my life when I was growing up,” Bateman says. ‘‘Ironically, I remember reading other people’s crime fiction as a kid and the authors would quite often go on about jazz – and I remember thinking: ‘I’m not in the slightest bit interested in Dizzy Gillespie, get on with it, would you?’

‘‘Of course, now, I’m doing exactly the same thing, with punk references all the way through. It’s a generational thing, but the music of those years was extremely important tome, and it came full circle with the Clash story.” Bateman is referring to the time when Divorcing Jack was being made into a film, and the producers asked Joe Strummer to write the title track for it.

‘‘To me, that was like Elvis or Frank Sinatra writing a personal song for me. I was thrilled. He wrote and recorded a rough demo mix of the song and submitted it to the producers, who rejected it and instead, re formed the Nolan Sisters and got them to do a song for the film.

‘‘I was able to get a copy of the song and a nice letter from Joe, so, in away, I have my own personal Joe Strummer song that’s never been released anywhere. It’s not a bad song either. That means more to me than winning a Booker Prize or anything like that.”

Since Divorcing Jack, Bateman has written a startling 21 books in 13 years, with significant chunks of time spent working full time on screenplays, including the successful BBC series Murphy’s Law.

‘‘I did the pilot for that and the first two series of it, and then the producers and I had artistic differences and, essentially, I got fired from my own series,” he says.

‘‘Basically, it was a crime series that was reasonably dark, but one that had a humorous element. They wanted to take out the humour and make it darker with more violence, to change it significantly from one series to the next.

‘‘I didn’t object to that as such, but my feeling was that, if you want to dramatically change a series, why not just make a totally new one, rather than alter the existing one so fundamentally? It’s done quite well since I left, but I wasn’t comfortable with that move.”

So, is he bitter? ‘‘In some ways, but in another way, it was a good thing for me. When you spend a long time working on a series full time – and I wrote almost non-stop for two or three years on Murphy’s Law – it does affect your other writing. It was good to get back t o novels after that experience.”

According to Bateman, writing scripts is quite deceptive. ‘‘You can finish one in two weeks and think, ‘That’s easy money’, but then you can end up rewriting it for the next year. On a series, there are multiple scripts for multiple episodes, so it gets a bit hairy. I do like seeing my stuff on screen though.”

When it comes to researching his novels, Bateman does not conform to the cliche of the method-writer. He doesn’t exhaustively collect background information and freely confesses to basing an entire 500-page novel set in the Empire State Building on the leaflet given out to tourists taking the tour.

‘‘At the end of the day, it’s fiction; as long as it reads well and you can lose yourself in the world, then that’s good enough for me. I don’t do a lot of research in general, and I’m not from the John Connolly school of research – I don’t need to live it. That’s not to say you can do all your research online – I do need to be there in order to pickup on the little things that happen that add authenticity to a book.

‘‘I don’t write outlines for any of my books, but I think if you watch enough movies, you pickup intuitively how stories should work. I don’t worry about character arcs or intersecting plots,” he adds.

‘‘I’ve had producers come tome and say they want me to write a screenplay using this story structure and this arc, and I just say, ‘Stop there, I’m not interested’. If I can’t write it the way I want to, I’m not interested. Especially when it involves humour – how can you ask a writer to do something as forced as insert a joke on page 26?” Unlike many of Bateman’s other books, Orpheus Rising isn’t funny, and isn’t meant to be. ‘‘It just didn’t lend itself to that – in fact, in some places, it’s quite romantic and in other places, tragic. I don’t try to analyse these things, they organically grow.”

Even though the book has only just been published, Bateman has already finished his next novel, due out next year. Entitled Mystery Man, it’s about a crime-solving bookseller and sees the writer return to his familiar Northern Ireland stomping ground.

He also has a new children’s novel out in June, and is working on a TV documentary on the changing face of Belfast, as well as editing an anthology of Northern Irish crime fiction, entitled Belfast Nights. Bateman hopes to try his hand at directing a feature film in the next year.

‘‘I directed a short before for the BBC and the bug bit me,” he says. ‘‘Last year, I also got to go to Moonstone, the film maker’s lab in Germany, to shoot some scenes from a book of mine [Mohammed Maguire], and that was fantastic. I came back expecting someone to meet me with a cheque for millions at the airport saying ‘make your movie’, but sadly it doesn’t work like that.

‘‘Your ambitions change over time. At one point, I just wanted to be able to write the words ‘the end’ and finish my first book- but then you want the book to be well received, and then you want it to sell well, and then you want a screenplay made of it. It’s the oldest cliche in the book; the screenwriter who says, ‘What I really want to do is direct’.

‘‘I think it’s a Northern Irish thing. I’m not sitting here thinking I can be the best director in the world – instead, I’m sitting here thinking I can do at least as well as some of the crap directors out there, so why shouldn’t I have a go at it?”

Book review: The Last Theorem, by Arthur C Clarke and Frederik Pohl

The Last Theorem.

By Arthur C Clarke and Frederik Pohl, HarperVoyager, €22

Published in The Sunday Business Post on August 31st, 2008, reviewed by Alex Meehan

It’s always tempting to address a writer’s body of work through their most recently published book, and never more so than when the writer in question has recently passed on.

Arthur C Clarke died in March this year aged 90, having started The Last Theorem in 2002.Unable to finish it due to his ailing health, he invited fellow science fiction heavyweight Frederik Pohl to complete the book, although he apparently read and approved the finished draft just a few days before his death.

However, it would be a real shame if this massively influential author’s legacy as a futurist and writer hinged on this final novel.

The Last Theorem tells the story of Sri Lankan protagonist Ranjit Subramanian and his obsession with Pierre de Fermat’s infamous mathematical theorem. In real life, Fermat’s last theorem went unproven for 357 years until 1995, when Andrew Wiles published a proof.

In Clarke and Pohl’s novel, the story begins by introducing Ranjit as the son of a Hindu priest and a student in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo. He is obsessed with maths and astronomy, and when he is caught in a compromising situation with his best friend Gamini Bandara, his father disapproves, not because Gamini is male, but rather because he is of the wrong social class.

As a result, Ranjit is temporarily disowned by his family and, in a bizarre twist of events, is kidnapped by pirates and held captive for several months. With nothing to do except think about maths, he hits upon a solution to his life’s obsession – Fermat’s last theorem.

When he’s released and the proof is published, Ranjit is catapulted into a position of global recognition. As a result of his new found fame, he comes into contact with representatives of a shadowy international organisation, Pax per Fidem (Peace through Transparency), keen to recruit his services as a mathematician.

Ranjit can initially find out little about this group until an overnight military attack on North Korea brings them into the light of public scrutiny. Pax per Fidem is the guardian of a new super weapon held in common by the largest of Earth’s nations – silent thunder.

Based on electromagnetic pulse technology, the weapon destroys all electrical devices for hundreds of miles in every direction but leaves people unharmed. When North Korea is effectively neutralised as a nuclear threat, a new period of peace arrives as rogue nations around the world are rendered impotent.

However, unbeknown to the people of Earth, a race of overlord beings known as the Grand Galactics have had their attention drawn to Earth by the unmistakable trace signatures of nuclear explosions.

The book follows Ranjit throughout his life from youth to old age, taking in his involvement in the new world order that emerges as a result of the use of silent thunder, as well as his marriage and subsequent children.

However, the characters around Ranjit are not well fleshed out and, as a result, it’s hard to stay truly immersed in the story.

The Last Theorem is an imaginative and challenging book, but many of its ideas and themes will already be well known to Clarke’s fans. Most, such as the use of space elevators and the question of man’s place in a wider universe likely to have intelligent life, have been dealt with before in previous works, most notably in Fountains of Paradise, Childhood’s End and the hugely influential 2001: A Space Odyssey.

What this book does very well is to take some fascinating science and maths, and make them intelligible. It’s just a shame the story doesn’t carry its technological payload a bit more proficiently.

Book review: Liberty, by Garrison Keillor

Liberty  By Garrison Keillor Faber and Faber, €14

Published in The Sunday Business Post on January 25th, 2009, reviewed by Alex Meehan

Since the mid-1980s, Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon books have enjoyed a cult following among readers who delight in his colour f u l and homely depictions of Middle America. Liberty is the latest Wobegon novel to see publication, this time telling the story of town resident Clint Bunsen and his struggle to come to terms with turning 60, and the sensation that his life is mostly behind him.

Lake Wobegon is a mostly Lutheran enclave of conservative Americans of Norwegian descent and Bunsen is the town mechanic. However, more than that, he’s an organiser with a flair for the big picture.

The chairman of Lake Wobegon’s Fourth of July festivities, he’s spent six years bringing the festival to national prominence, culminating in a 4 second mention on CNN only last year.

Bunsen works hard and isn’t afraid to ride roughshod over the sensitivities of others, yet for some reason the town isn’t universally grateful for his efforts.

He has ruffled some feathers in establishing his new style of parade management and his festive priorities have included doing away with lengthy readings oft he declaration of independence and banishing tractor-driving red necks from the town parade.

The result is that the more conservative elements in Lake Wobegon have decided enough is enough. A shocked Bunsen i s bumped off the organising committee and, with his resentment festering, decides he will run for Congress to show the small town cynics a thing or two.

But before he can act on his new plan, he’s distracted by a chance encounter which leads to a romantic entanglement. Buxom 28-year-old redhead Angelica Pflame is everything Bunsen’s wife isn’t. Young, optimistic, open-minded and sexually adventurous, Pflame represents the life Bunsen might have had if he had listened to his instincts as a younger man and stayed in California.
Click Here!

Instead, he played it safe and returned to Lake Wobegan to marry Irene, his high school sweetheart. Following a steamy fling with Pflame, Bunsen seriously considers leaving Lake Wobegon and heading to the west coast with his new sweetheart.

An explanation for Bunsen’s uncharacteristically hot-blooded behaviour comes to light when his doctor recommends he undergoes a genetic check up and has his DNA tested. He discovers that one of the rocks upon which he has built his life is not as solid as he thought.

The tests show he’s not of Norwegian descent after all – he’s actually half-Spanish. Meanwhile, the Fourth of July is rapidly approaching and the organising committee come crawling back for help.

At first glance, Liberty and the Lake Wobegon stories appear to be fairly lightweight, albeit charming reading, a sort of literary Vicar of Dibley or Last of the Summer Wine. But although they may be comforting in their cosiness, Keillor is a well-regarded satirist and broadcaster.

In the gentle humour of Liberty’s story, there lies some incisive insight into the Middle American, Republican mindset.

Liberty may not be a riveting plot-driven read, a gripping who dunnit or a engrossing thriller, but there’s enough quality material here to make it worth recommending.

Book review: Lavinia, by Ursula Le Guin

By Ursula Le Guin
Gollancz, €18

Published in The Sunday Business Post on May 31st, 2009, reviewed by Alex Meehan

Ursula Le Guin is best known as an author of science fiction and fantasy, but with Lavinia she has sunk her teeth into an altogether more literary challenge. Part historical fiction, part fantasy and part literary conceit, La Guin’s latest novel tells the story of a minor character in Virgil’s 2,000year-old epic poem, The Aeneid.

In the original work, Lavinia is a 19-year-old princess who appears briefly, blushing at the prospect of marrying the hero Aeneas. However, in Le Guin’s novel, her story is fleshed out and extrapolated, with Lavinia becoming the central player in a story about politics, mysticism and civil war. Lavinia is the daughter of King Latinus and Queen Amata of the Italian kingdom of Latinum in an era before the founding of Rome.

At the start of the book, King Latinus is thinking of his legacy and of finding a successor. Lavinia is his only surviving child, as both his sons were killed many years previously by mysterious illnesses.

While his kingdom has enjoyed peace for the last 20 years, he needs to secure its strategic position by marrying his daughter off to the right suitor. His wife, Queen Amata has strong ideas on the matter she has become unhinged with grief and has never fully recovered from losing her sons.

She sees her nephew, Turnus, as a surrogate son and is determined to marry her daughter off to him. Turnus is ruler of the neighbouring kingdom of Rutuli, and in many ways is a suitable match he is young, good looking and charismatic, if a bit impetuous.

More importantly, King Latinus knows that Turnus would make a good ally for the kingdom of Latinumat a time when there is much political instability in the area.

However, Lavinia is reluctant to agree to the match. She is a headstrong girl and, having grown up in peace time, has no idea of the political trouble brewing on the horizon. Like her father, she experiences visions and hears the voice of an oracle in the family’s sacred grove in Albunea. The oracle tells King Latinus to refuse Turnus’ proposal and to wait for a better suitor.

Meanwhile, a band of refugees from the Trojan War arrive on the shore s of Latinum, and Lavinia has a premonition that she will marry their leader, the hero Aeneas.

Latinum welcomes the Trojans and agrees to marry his daughter to Aeneas, leading to marital conflict with Queen Amata and war with King Turnus, who feels slighted by the choice.

Le Guin is an extremely accomplished creator of imaginary worlds. At 79 years of age, she has been a respected science fiction writer for more than 40 years and she has applied herself to Lavinia’s story with zeal. Latinum comes alive and the ancient Italy portrayed in the book feels authentic.

However, Lavinia is not really a historical novel, and Guin is clearly happy to play around with the rules of this universe.

A central part of the storyline involves Lavinia meeting and talking to a mystery presence in her family’s sacred grove.

This important narrator turns out to be the poet Virgil himself, travelling back in time in ghost form to let her know how events around her are to play out.

Many writers of historical fiction commit the cardinal sin of giving modern sensibilities to their historical characters placing liberal feminists in the dark ages or social democrats in medieval times, and so on despite the fact such ideas would have been unthinkable to those characters.

Le Guin doesn’t do this. The central character is accessible to the modern reader, but enough of the society she is supposed to live in is presented to make the context clear.

Lavinia is expected to marry whoever she is told to marry, and her objection to Turnus isn’t based on any idea of love or personal preference, but rather by a strong sense of predestiny.

In some places the book is unevenly paced the second half is much more enjoyable as the plot speeds up and more happens but overall, it’s a fascinating read.

Lavinia opens a thought provoking window into a long dead world, and offers something interesting from the hands of a writer who is extremely competent and passionately engaged with her subject matter.

Theme-atically challanged . . .

Do not adjust your set! As part of bringing this blog back to life, I’m experimenting with different wordpress themes, to find one that suits. So you’ll probably find this page looks different every time you visit for a few days as I try a few out to see which ones fit.

That is all.

Book review: The Strain, By Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

The Strain
By Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan
HarperCollins, €14

Published in The Sunday Business Post on July 12th, 2009, reviewed by Alex Meehan

Set in New York City, The Strain starts with a mysterious Boeing 777 arriving at JFK airport from Europe. The plane lands normally when suddenly the lights go out, the blinds go down and radio contact is lost. Worried that some sort of biological weapon has been deployed, the authorities call in Dr Eph Good weather of the Centre of Disease Control to seal off the plane.

When the door is opened, the crew and passengers are found sitting in their seats, dead and drained of blood, but – as there is no obvious sign of disease – the bodies are bagged up and sent to the morgue. With the authorities under extreme pressure to explain the deaths, the media descends on the airport, generating headlines all over the globe.

The reports are seen by millions of New Yorkers, including an elderly Jewish pawnbroker sitting in his shop in Spanish Harlem. Abraham Setrakian thinks he knows what’s caused the incident and quickly realises he has to convince the authorities that a supernatural plague is about to break out in Manhattan.

Setrakian is a retired Polish professor who spent World War II in a concentration camp, where the prisoners’ misery was compounded by nightly visits from an ancient vampire, killing with impunity under the noses of the prison guards. Now Setrakian is the only one with the necessary knowledge to help Dr Good weather battle the imminent outbreak and trace the source of the infection back to the master vampire which must have been onboard the plane at JFK.

It’s probably not surprising that even the bare-bones plot description seems more like a summary of a screenplay than a book, coming as it does from the pen of mystery writer Chuck Hogan and lauded film director Guillermo Del Toro – the director of Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy. Interestingly, the entire book reads like a fleshed out movie script, and has clearly been written with as much thought given to the look and feel of the story as the motivation and development of the characters.

Throughout the narrative, Del Toro and Hogan mix magic and science without much concern for believability.

The bad guys in The Strain are sub-human vampires that start out as regular people until they’re infected with a virus that kills them and reanimates them, creating mindless bloodsucking automatons in the process. At the same time, the inception of the virus comes from a supernatural uber-vampire, Joseph Sardu, who appears to be almost entirely magical in origin.

Regardless of their origin, the vampires featured in The Strain owe a lot more to movies like 28 Days Later and I Am Legend than they do to Bram Stoker’s original vampire story – and unlike Twilight’s brooding Edward Cullen, they’re certainly not going to be the object of any teenage girl’s romantic fantasies.

It’s impossible to discount the influence of the many vampire and zombie movies to appear in recent years on Del Toro, and The Strain is an unashamedly derivative book. Del Toro recently gave an interview where he said that the idea was originally conceived as a TV project for the Fox network, but he decided to pull it from negotiations when he was asked if he could make it into a comedy. It’s not hard to see why.

The story is genuinely chilling, and features violence and gore to the extent that it’s hard to see how it could be made into prime time television.

At the same time, it strikes enough of a balance between creating clever psychological tension and breaking out the chainsaws to make it both readable and interesting. As the story plays itself out, the scene is set for the next two books that are already scheduled to appear to complete The Strain trilogy.

As horror stories go, this is a well written and absorbing read, but it’s unashamedly a genre work – so if you’re not into horror, you’ll probably find it pretty silly. On the other hand, as a poolside read, it’s an enjoyable romp with plenty to recommend it.

Lost draws to a close . . .

Okay, including What Kate Does we’re now three hours into the final season of Lost. The verdict?

Well, first off the first two hours – the season premier in fact – were absolutely solid. Excellent television – we got the start of the flash-sideways alternate reality device, we got a smoke monster reveal, we got more back story filled out and we got an entirely new setting on the island opened up to us in the form of the temple.

Riveting stuff so far, but not without problems. First off we lost Juliet — apparently because she’s contracted to work on V — and I also find myself slightly disappointed in the whole smoke monster reveal, or at least the part of it that has been revealed so far.

“I’m sorry you had to see me like that.” Hmm . . . okay it was obviously very surprising, and I doubt many people saw that coming and while I’m not saying it’s not entertaining . . . I just wonder where they’re going with this one.

Likewise, the temple section is interesting but who the hell are all these people, including Dogen, and where did they come from?

How many others are there or have there been? Are these other others? Or other other others?

Are these guys meant to have been there all along? Hmmm, time will tell.

New York visit . . .

I was recently in New York, a city I’d happily visit anytime – it’s probably my favourite city destination anywhere in the world.

An awesome place, with a palpable sense of personality and history. I have some good friends there now . . .

Book review: The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown

The Lost Symbol
By Dan Brown
Bantam Press, €11.40 (half-price)

Published in The Sunday Business Post on September 20th, 2009, reviewed by Alex Meehan

Booksellers everywhere have had the release date of Dan Brown’s latest novel The Lost Symbol circled on their calendars for months. Not since the last Harry Potter book appeared in 2007 has the publishing industry been as sure of a hit as it was with this book, the followup to the phenomenally successful The Da Vinci Code, which racked up paperback sales of over 80 million.

Released last Tuesday, The Lost Symbol had sold over one million copies for publishers Bantam Press by the end of the day, while the online bookseller Transworld said it had sold more copies of the book in its first 36 hours of release than any other hardback ever published.

The good news for fans who have yet to get their hands on a copy is that, with his third Robert Langdon outing, Brown hasn’t drifted far from the formula that made The Da Vinci Code such a huge international hit. Harvard academic Langdon’s specialist interest in symbology enables him to reprise his role as publishing’s most unlikely action hero.

Where the Catholic Church and Opus Dei were the focus of the conspiracy theories in The Da Vinci Code, this time around freemasonry comes in for Brown’s scrutiny.

Summoned at the last minute to Washington to give a lecture by his friend and mentor Peter Solomon, Langdon finds he’s been the victim of a hoax and there is no lecture.

Solomon has gone missing, and his severed right hand has been found on the floor of the national statuary hall in the Capitol Building.

Solomon is a prominent mason, and his hand has been tattooed with mystical symbols and then positioned specifically to communicate a message to Langdon using an obscure reference only he would know.

Under pressure from both the CIA and Solomon’s kidnapper, Langdon must find a supposedly legendary Masonic portal that acts as a repository for a body of ancient knowledge that can confer mystical powers on practitioners.

In a plot that seems like it could have been written for a computer game, Langdon must dash from point to point in Washington, solving puzzles and delivering mini-lectures along the way about the city’s Masonic founders and hidden symbolic references.

Along for the ride is the kidnap victim’s sister, Dr Katherine Solomon , a specialist in the obscure study of noetic science, which deals with mind-body connections and the nature of human consciousness.

Meanwhile, a variety of civil servants and state officials get in Langdon’s way, as the clock ticks and time runs out for Peter Solomon. Brown specialises in rip roaring plots that jump quickly from scene to scene, and this novel is no exception.

The story takes place over a 12-hour period, and is written with the kind of pacing that helps communicate the panic and rush of the protagonists.

Unfortunately the pace of the story doesn’t leave much time or space for anything as trivial as character development, but then that’s probably not the point of a book like this.

Brown is well versed in working with the particular formula he favours, so expect lots of cheesy, cliché-ridden dialogue, interspersed with extensive explanations of cutting edge science and ancient history.

There are some interesting twists and turns along the way, but the final resolution of the story is surprisingly predictable.

By no objective measure can books like The Lost Symbol or The Da Vinci Code be described as particularly well written, and once again Brown has come up with some improbable plotting, shallow character drawing and illogical story twists.

But to dismiss The Lost Symbol out of hand would be a mistake, because a vast chunk of the book-buying public isn’t all that interested in literary criticism – they care about fast-paced, easy to read thrillers laced with an exciting streak of conspiracy and intrigue.

The average Lost Symbol reader is looking for a book that will make their train journey home go that bit quicker, or help a few hours by the pool slip by pleasurably.

And for them, Brown has produced a fun read that, as long as it’s not taken too seriously, delivers exactly what was expected.